Dáil debates

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Restoration of Birthright Citizenship) Bill 2017: Second Stage [Private Members]


6:15 pm

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity) | Oireachtas source

That was an interesting speech from the Minister. I suggest his memory is selective because I remember the campaign waged to get the 2004 referendum passed. I also remember the comments of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Progressive Democrat politicians. The Minister mentioned women at an advanced stage of pregnancy arriving, risks to the health of the mother and the child, women being exploited and his concern for vulnerable women and children, people who were being exploited. I remember how the race card was played and used by establishment politicians from the Minister's party and the other major parties. Talk about having a desire to protect the vulnerable and others from being exploited stands in sharp contrast to the reality of the direct provision system.

We cannot separate the 2004 referendum from the direct provision system. The change in the citizenship laws in 2004 was aimed at those seeking asylum, who are among the most vulnerable people in this country. Asylum seekers were picked out as being to blame for the crisis in the health service in the run-up to the local and European elections. The myth of so-called birth tourism is blown apart when we look at the actual conditions that those seeking asylum are put in here. They were put into those conditions before and during 2004 and they are still living in them today. Direct provision has been in place in this State since 2000, just four years prior to the change in law. Those seeking asylum were unable to work, and now they have an extremely restricted right to work. The weekly allowance for those who live in direct provision is €21.60, which is a pittance.

Direct provision centres are run on a for-profit basis by their operators. They are generally put in isolated locations and it is not easy for people to integrate with the local community. There are major impacts on people's mental health given the prison-like conditions they are forced to live in. There are restrictive rules, and a lack of privacy and inadequate provision for family groups such as living space and kitchens. These are the conditions that these children are born into. Children were deprived of citizenship rights simply because of their parents seeking asylum here. In 20 or 30 years' time, when the history books are written, people will look back at the direct provision centres the Minister presides over as being no better than the Magdalen laundries and industrial schools of the past. They are the modern day versions of those places. Direct provision centres and the citizenship referendum go hand in hand. It is a racist policy and it has nothing to do with caring for vulnerable women and children, stopping exploitation and so on, so let us cut the hypocrisy about the issues.

There has been a global debate around birthright citizenship, with the ending of it being largely connected with a scapegoating of migrants and minority communities. Across Europe, countries have restricted birthright citizenship and shifted citizenship onto what is known as a by blood model. This can result in situations where minority communities include many who have no citizenship despite many generations being born in a country. In the United States, birthright citizenship was introduced following the civil war as part of the ending of slavery and the winning of legal rights by former slaves. In recent years, President Trump has brought this into question and threatened to issue one of his infamous executive orders to interpret the constitution so as to exclude children born to undocumented immigrants. There is no shortage of Irish politicians who, rightly, call for the regularisation of the undocumented Irish community in the US. This is of course something that any socialist would support. Irish politicians also come out against Trump when he speaks about reinterpreting the United States constitution's provisions for birthright citizenship due to the impact it would have on the Irish community there. There is hypocrisy at work here. President Trump would dearly like to implement the law that we have here and that was supported by Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats in 2004.

Ireland has removed equal citizenship rights for children and has no pathway to regularisation in place for the undocumented. It was estimated before Christmas that there are between 2,000 and 5,000 undocumented children and young people in this State. Many are in a similar position as the dreamers in the US, people who came to that country as children and do not have status. As my colleague outlined, Solidarity will bring forward an amendment to this Bill on Committee Stage that would grant citizenship to those who have had their childhoods here, not just those born here. Ireland now has its dreamers and this will increasingly be an issue in society as many of these young people reach adulthood in the next few years and wish to build their lives in their country but without having any status here.

The issue is already bubbling. Last year there was the high profile case of Eric, which Deputy Paul Murphy outlined. There was also the case of Nonso, a constituent of the Minister, who was to be deported but following an excellent campaign by his classmates, teachers and the local community in County Offaly, the Minister reversed his decision to deport his constituent. Unfortunately, we are likely to see more cases where young people have to campaign for their classmates who face serious issues like deportations, the absence of rights to access third level education or employment rights as they leave school. The Government does not give any real pathway to regularisation for young people. At present the only mechanism is to apply for humanitarian leave to remain. The serious issue of how this is linked to deportation orders being issued needs to be on the agenda. If the Minister does not grant humanitarian leave, a deportation order issues. The Minister must outline a pathway to regularisation for such young people.

In 2016, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child outlined clearly and graphically the lack of a regularisation scheme in the State and described it as a failure by the Irish State. It is a failure and the Government has to report what it intends to do about it by 2020. The Government should do the right thing. The Migrant Rights Centre has done excellent work in this area and has worked closely with undocumented young people. They have reported on the real impact of growing up undocumented. Imagine the mental stress on young people and the fear and stigma. Despite being in second level education, they are unable to progress to third level education. There are concerns about any interactions with the State. The simple process of applying for a PPS number could trigger a process of deportation.

I will return to what I said at the start. The referendum in 2004, which was the birth of these changes, did not occur in an atmosphere of humanitarian concern about protecting the vulnerable and stopping exploitation. I was there. I remember it. I remember the conversations in the pubs and on the street and the debate in society that was being fostered by and fanned from above by politicians who wanted votes in the European and local elections. It was a racist agenda. It was nothing to do with the concerns of ordinary people. That type of policy needs to be put in the past. It needs to be challenged and reversed, not defended in any sense.


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